Tinsley's own state, however, made no connection between his 11 years of fire service and his early death.
Growing medical evidence suggests it should. Federal studies show that firefighters, who are often engulfed in toxic substances at fire scenes, are more likely than the rest of us to be diagnosed with several forms of cancer, including brain cancer.
That's because state law was changed only in 2016 to make survivors of some firefighter cancer victims eligible for benefits. The law limits eligibility to three types of cancer -- mesothelioma, testicular and intestinal. Lawmakers added esophageal cancer in 2017. Firefighters are lobbying to add five more forms to the list, for a total of nine.
Chief State Fire Marshal
The IAFF, a union of paid, full-time firefighters and medics, counts nine cancer deaths among
Firefighters with cancer in
State legislation in recent years to expand firefighter death benefits and workers' compensation in cancer cases has died without floor votes.
"Seth was in a lot of situations that could definitely cause someone to have cancer," said
Tinsley was among three
The nonprofit Firefighter Cancer Support Network says cancer caused 70 percent of line-of-duty deaths of career firefighters in 2016.
A century ago, firefighters battled the flames and smoke of mostly wooden structures. Now their airways and skin are exposed to synthetic materials in pipes, walls, wiring, fabrics and furnishings that release toxic chemicals as they burn. Even some types of firefighting foam contains compounds that may be hazardous.
A study of nearly 30,000 firefighters in
Most of those diagnoses and deaths were digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers, NIOSH reported. Firefighters were twice as likely to have malignant mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, which was widely used as insulation, roofing materials, siding materials and floor tiles in buildings.
Some cancers, including those of the bladder and prostate, appeared unusually often in younger firefighters. Among all firefighters, the odds of having lung cancer and leukemia rose with the amount of time they spent responding to fires, the federal agency reported.
In July, President
"It used to be, the dirtier the gear the tougher a firefighter you were," said
"America can't be proud of the way it's addressed the firefighters and first responders," said Dr.
The medical community has long established the link between firefighters and heart disease, said
Levine launched Code T.O.M., an initiative to help firefighters learn about their cancer risks, and early signs and symptoms of disease, in early 2016. So far it has reached about 1,600 of the 4,200 paid firefighters in the
"There's a real hunger for the education because a lot of them, it's the first time they are recognizing the risk," Wheeler said. "For every department we go to, they recognize someone in their department that has been diagnosed."
Code T.O.M. is named for
Robinson, who lived in
"One of the things he absolutely loved was the pager calling,"
Using a 2016 federal grant, the department now provides a second set of turnout gear so firefighters can launder dirty gear. Each truck has a bucket of brushes and soap to decontaminate dirty gear, and firefighters are expected to wipe down their hands, wrists, faces and necks after calls.
"Tracking it is the problem," said
Sellers, who is a hazmat team member, doesn't know whether his job gave him cancer. But he does know his habits have changed, wearing oxygen packs longer than he once did and taking time to decontaminate his gear after calls. He also offers support to his peers through the
"The tradition in the fire service is to be as tough as you can, be a smoke-eater and that kind of stuff," he said. "I've gotten older and been through some things and now I think, that's stupid. You have to be safe."
Line-of-duty death benefits
Firefighters would also like to get benefits under workers' compensation if they're diagnosed with cancer. Thirty-three other states automatically approve those benefits in firefighter cancer cases that meet specific state criteria, says the
Bills to expand
Another bill, which names nine forms of cancers as "occupational diseases" for firefighters that would be covered by workers' compensation, also failed to advance in the state House in 2015. Gov.
"Usually, it's (because of) money," when such measures fail, said
"Employers see huge costs to this, and private sector employers see that they could face the same kind of possibility," he said. "It goes beyond just the idea of public sector employers to whether opening this up to a wider array of any number of employers and employees that might be exposed to hazardous working conditions."
Firefighter groups hope to renew legislation for both in the 2019
"When you take in consideration the pay, risks, requirements to maintain employment, and the thought that at some point in your career you're likely to be diagnosed with cancer from repeated exposure in your career, it is making it more and more difficult to find firefighters," he said.
Conference on cancer in the fire service
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